You’ve no doubt heard about the ancestral diet, the paleolithic diet, the hunter-gatherer diet—but it’s not just a diet, it’s a philosophy. I sat down with Sarah Fragoso and her brother Mark to talk about her new book and about going paleo, and eventually we made some pudding. Check out our video on the Synthesis Facebook page to watch us make some delectable panna cotta from her new book, Paleo Around the World: Italian Cuisine.
Now, we’ve been doing this for almost 30 days and we feel pretty good. Matt felt great right away—he was kicking up his heels like he never felt better—but I wanted to crawl in a hole and die for the first five days.
Yeah, the same thing happened to me; I did too. It depends on how far gone you are. I was wrecked. I used to cry into my empty cereal bowl at night because I loved to eat cereal at night. I thought, “This is so awful and I want to die!” The only reason I stuck with it was because I was challenged by Robb and Nicki Wolf. I had to prove to them that I could do it. And it was awful and hard, but you know what? When I woke up I felt great. It’ll be six years in February that I’ve been eating this way, or living this way, whatever you want to call it.
So I’m super late to the party.
No! Not at all! We don’t know until we know. You know?
I was having a lot of problems with my stomach, anxiety, insomnia… like a never-ending list of ailments.
I’ve heard your story so many times. Your story is the reason that I keep doing what I’m doing. So much of what I do is for that reason. It’s astounding to me, the difference that a few little food choices can make. When I eat something that doesn’t agree with me, I remember feeling that way all the time, and never want to go back.
There’s the mental clarity that comes along with it too, and understanding how food relates to your body. Food is our fuel—what’s happened between when food was our fuel to now, when you go to the supermarket and it’s just all this STUFF? It’s just stuff, it’s not even food anymore.
What’s really cool about Paleo, is that it’s like the world’s best elimination diet. You discovered that you can’t really eat eggs, and someday you may be able to eat eggs again when your gut has healed. I can eat a little cheese now and then and I’m ok, but I can never, ever eat gluten. I understand what it does to my body and I feel awful, I get bloated, digestive stuff happens overnight, I get anxiety, depression; it’s not even worth it to me. So most of the time I eat really clean, but every once in a while I’ll decide that I want some nachos. But it happens far less than people would imagine because you love to feel good once you actually start feeling well. It’s pretty amazing.
Feeling good is addictive, especially when you’ve felt lousy for so long.
I think people live with it for so long because it’s normal to feel lousy. It’s more abnormal for somebody to be like, “I feel great! All the time!” Usually we sit down with somebody and they have migraines, or digestive issues, joint pain, inflammation, or eczema; everybody has something wrong with them. It’s abnormal to be healthy— these days especially.
Skepticism! People say it’s like Atkins, and he died of a heart attack! Paleo people ate bugs not cows!
My approach to people who like to take a negative point of view to what I do, is I just let them know that I feel better when I eat this way. Because you can’t argue with that. Someone can’t say, “but grains are GOOD FOR YOU.” Well that’s great that they work for you, but this is what works for me. You don’t have to argue science or politics or fads or trends; no one can argue with how you feel because no one knows how you feel except for you. I look better now than I ever have in my entire life and people say, “you look great, so why don’t you just eat bread every now and then.” It’s because [when I eat bread] I don’t feel good.
You can argue scientifically that breads contain grains, and grains contain lectins, and lectins are damaging to the gut lining, and then somebody will come back and argue with that; there can be all these back-and-forth arguments. But it’s so much easier to respond to people who are negative to your approach to just say, “I feel better eating this way.” I feel like I’m such an oddball now, like people say, “look there’s that paleo mom lady, she’s like a velociraptor. Hide your small animals, she’ll spear them or something.” But when you feel like this, it’s so great—it’s so worth it, you don’t even care.
Breakfast has been hard without eggs. I’ve been mixing Beber Almond Milk with chia seeds to make a pudding with some berries on top, but I feel like that’s probably not the best breakfast. We read that the natural protection for the seeds or the nuts can be poisonous.
Well it can cause some inflammation, especially for people who are already inflamed. So with nuts, I kinda treat them like a treat. I use them more as a condiment, rather than snacking on them all day. If you prepare them correctly, they kinda get rid of some of the bad phytates. But you have to soak them overnight, sometimes longer, and then roast them. But if you sit down and dust a whole bag of nuts, that’s not really natural—not how we’d normally eat nuts. We’d have to find them, pick them, shell them… we’d have a small little handful by the time we were done.
Take almond flour—it takes a lot of nuts to make almond flour. Like if you’re making a muffin, you’re making this highly-condensed palatable food that looks a lot like what we used to eat when we weren’t paleo. So I try to treat nuts like a treat.
If I weren’t eating eggs [for breakfast], I would eat leftovers from dinner. You have to look at breakfast a different way. You’re going to have to learn to like leftovers.
(I made a face to express my extreme dislike of leftovers.)
You have to like them. You can reconstitute them to make them look like something else maybe? [laughing] Honestly, if I’m not eating eggs I’d make a sausage hash with some really good sausage, shredded zucchini, sweet potatoes, and onions. Or sausage, peaches, avocado. Keep it super simple.
Mark breaks in: You can stuff some avocado with some chicken salad or tuna salad, to make it a little more breakfast-y.
(Mark really only chimes in with amazing food ideas.)
Economically it can be challenging to eat free-range grass-fed organic foods. What would your advice be to people who can’t really afford to eat that way?
Yeah, it’s unfortunate but it’s a real challenge. It’s been the topic of more than one discussion at health symposiums and conferences. How do you feed the world paleo when the cheapest way to feed people is by feeding them grains? How do we make the switch? We’re kind of seeing a natural shift anyway, because it’s not sustainable to continue stripping our forests for grain production.
But say you’re on food stamps, and you want to make a change, you want to eat paleo—it’s amazing how you can use your food stamps at the farmer’s market at nearly all the stalls now. It takes a shift in your perspective. Where else can I cut back to eat healthier foods? And think of it this way: it’s also a health insurance policy. In my opinion, yes grass-fed local is best, but I would so much rather somebody find the best cut of meat that they can afford than eat macaroni and cheese and white bread and baloney. You can go to Food Maxx and get a shopping cart full of vegetables for $20. Don’t get a latte, don’t go through the drive-thru, don’t go out to eat.
But bodies love bad food, it’s so delicious!
We have a dopamine response to food. If you look at it from an evolutionary or paleolithic aspect… I don’t even really like to call it paleo because it’s such a trend now and I obviously don’t live like a cavewoman.
However, if you look at our physiological makeup, when we didn’t have everything that we wanted, then we’d have to rely on what we could find. If we came across some blueberries, we would eat them and they would taste sweet, and we would know that they were a nutrient-dense source of food. So we’d eat as much of them as we could because we probably wouldn’t run into them again for several months. So we gorge ourselves on blueberries, move on, kill an elk, eat as much of it as we possibly could, move on, maybe find some honey. But what we’ve done now is, we’ve extracted flavor from these foods and made these highly-palatable food sources. So when we eat something like a donut or a pizza—something where the flavor profile is super intense—our response is, “this is really nutritious; we’d better eat more of it or we’ll starve.” And so we can’t stop—we’ve messed with our natural physiological response to food by creating food that’s not even food.
We need to break that addiction and understand that we all know we can sit down and eat a giant plate of french fries and way more cookies than we’re supposed to and dust an entire pizza, but when was the last time you ate way too much steak, and way too much broccoli? You don’t; you stop at some point, you’re full and your body understands it’s time to stop.
That’s true, nobody’s ever laid out on the couch from too much broccoli.
But we’ve all eaten way too much ice cream and pizza; we’ve all been there. None of us have ever lost our cool over a pork loin, you know what I mean?
I’m at my most vulnerable at night when I’m up late working and everybody’s asleep. I hear my night-cheese calling from the fridge. What can I eat instead?
I have a remedy for that: go to bed on time.
It’s so hard but it’s a big part of your health. You can’t just eat right to be healthy. Sleep, managing stress, fitness, and food. Those are the four keys to health. It’s hard because we live in this crazy fast-paced world. Longevity means taking care of yourself, from every aspect. When you’re not sleeping, your body thinks you’re going on a long hunt or something and acts like you need more calories.
So, what’s the first step? If somebody doesn’t feel well and they want to make a change, where do they begin?
It totally depends on the person. There are some people who want to jump in with two feet and be like, “I’m taking [out] all grains, dairy, legumes, soy, processed vegetable oils—I’m gonna do it all right now, starting tomorrow.” There are some people who know that they’re going to fail if they do that, so for those people I recommend starting with one thing. Start with breakfast—change your breakfast. Eat a paleo breakfast for a week or two. And then move on to lunch, and then move on to dinner.
Sometimes it helps when people just eliminate one food group. One month take out grains. The next month conquer grains and dairy, and the following month take out sugar. If you don’t eat strictly paleo for 30 days you’re not going to know what it feels like to feel good, because you’re still going to be a little bit inflamed; you’re still going to be struggling with some sugar addiction, some carb addiction.
If you finally get to the point where you’re totally paleo, you’ve got to do it for 30 days before you start adding things back in. Because you won’t know what it feels like to feel good. My approach is, however you get there, you need to really try it for at least 30 days. Maybe 60. You’ll start to feel noticeable differences—digestion will be better, or migraines will be gone, or eczema is cleared up, or your insomnia will be gone. There are lists and lists of stuff that improve. You just gotta suck it up and do it.
It really helps to have a plan, and it helps to have support. That’s why I’ve written the books that I’ve written. Everyday Paleo is like a guidebook; it tells you how to get started. Everything is laid out for people because it’s overwhelming at first.
Tell me about the new book already—are you Italian? Cuz I’m Italian and I admit that I was skeptical.
Nope, not even a lick. It’s been a culmination of things; I wanted to travel and learn about other lifestyles, other cultures. European cultures are so much closer to a healthier lifestyle than we are; they rest, they take things a lot easier than we do, their work hours are more sane, they take better care of their mothers, their children. There’s an Italian-food restaurant in every state in America. It’s a huge part of our own culture here. So it felt like it was a great way to kick off the series. Learning how Italian people approach their food has been so enlightening and cool and amazing. The trip was unreal.
We tried to go to places that weren’t super touristy, and [went] to work with farmers and Michelin-star chefs. Italians eat foods that are really fresh and close to the source, and not giant plates of pasta with every meal or slabs and slabs of bread. You don’t see problems like celiac’s disease in smaller places, but in the big cities, gluten-free stores are everywhere. So when I was discussing the style of cooking that I was doing, they totally got it right away; it was pretty cool. I felt like we had that really authentic experience, and when we got back home we could be really true to the regions that we went to. It was an amazing journey. I learned so much about food and people. And then we just came back from Thailand so, the second book will be Thai cuisine.
So what’s your secret snack? What’s your night-cheese?
You’re going to hate my answer. I don’t eat at night. Sorry.
Mark to the rescue: What about salami with bruschetta, plantain chips, slices of cucumber, put a little salt on it, eat it with the bruschetta or salsa? Green olives, black olives, pickles, artichoke hearts… if you have a glass of wine, hey; work it off the next day and get things in balance.
Snack time is the hardest for me at night so just, you know, make healthy choices at the store that can still be really tasty, and have that salty or crunchy or sweet flavor. If you’re not eating a ton of it and you’re exercising the next day and leading a balanced life, it’s ok. Maybe don’t drink the whole bottle of wine; maybe have a sparkling water. You’ll still be able to help that craving. You also gotta have the No-Potato salad. It’s better than potato salad and I’m not just saying that. Little things like those satisfy those cravings. And figuring out how to make homemade mayonnaise changed my world.
For more ideas, check out everydaypaleo.com. Be sure to make Brother Mark’s badass paleo tamales. And pick up Sarah’s new book, Paleo Around the World: Italian Cuisine. Also be sure to check out the video of Sarah cooking in my kitchen! She wrecked my honey. It’s what she does.